Older Americans' Surprising New Views on Retirement

It was probably inevitable after the worst recession in decades: Americans now view their future retirements differently than they did 10 years ago. But here's a shocker: Their overall attitudes toward this future are largely positive.

Many U.S. residents have seen a large portion of their retirement funds wiped out, so it would be logical to believe that worry would trump hope among people over 55. Instead, a new study by Harris Interactive done for SunAmerica Financial Group shows that 60% of those surveyed are hopeful about their financial situations.

"While the recession clearly had a financial and emotional impact, it was very encouraging to see that three out of five Americans 55 and older have remained hopeful for their future," said SunAmerica Financial Group President and CEO Jay S. Wintrob. Further, 81% say they've learned critical lessons about retirement. For the most part, the results of those lessons should be expected. "They are course-correcting: intending to work longer, save more, spend less, be more disciplined and adjust their lifestyle expectations," the SunAmerica Retirement Re-Set Study showed. Most of the results were compared with data from a similar study in 2001.

The result are plain enough, but are they realistic?

Among the findings:
  • A new outlook: Today, 54% view retirement as a new chapter in life, rather than a winding down -- a significant increase over the 38% that held a similar view a decade ago."
  • Retirement is being postponed: Pre-retirees say they now intend to delay retirement by five years -- from 64 to 69-triggered in part by increasing longevity, as well as the recession and financial need."
  • Retirement no longer means the end of work: Almost two-thirds say they would ideally like to remain productive and include some work in retirement to stay active and involved."
  • Financial peace of mind is now six times more important than accumulating wealth: 82% name it their key financial goal."
  • Unexpected multigenerational family assistance has become the new retirement wild card: Pre-retirees must balance their retirement plans with the possibility of having to support aging relatives, adult children, grandchildren and siblings. Nearly half of Americans 55 and older expect to provide this support and, in a new twist on childcare, 70% of those believe their adult children will need financial assistance.
These outlooks and plans are dependent to some extent on the rate of the economic recovery, and the future need for many people to work longer. The unemployment rate among Americans who are under 25 is still well above the national average. Those who keep working past regular retirement age will be competing with their grandchildren for jobs, and it's not clear which generation will come out ahead in that competition.

Whether one can achieve financial peace of mind and retain the ability to support other family members will depend to some large extent on whether GDP growth is rekindled and unemployment rates come down: You're far less likely to be able to help a relative it you can't keep a job yourself. It also depends on how much these individuals can count on Social Security to supplement their incomes. Based on deficit projections, SSI is no longer a sure thing.

Like most polls that look to the future, the SunAmerica Retirement Re-Set Study is based on assumptions that may turn out to be wrong. The perceived health of the economy drives most of the results in this research, and that health may well not exist at all.
Also See: Social Security: Why Seniors Are Just Plain Angry

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I'm starting a podcast along these same lines called Tales of the Great Recession to share peoples stories of long term joblessness, from the struggle of a long search to the joy of finding a job, and what you learned in-between. Please send your stories to talesofthegr@aol.com. The first podcast will be available free through itunes on 7/22, and I plan on doing it as a weekly podcast for as long as the stories keep coming in.

July 16 2011 at 12:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

well ...First our age group is not living any longer. If you are a male and retire at 69 you only have 4 to 5 years to live on average. The majority of people DO NOT live to 90. I cannot believe all the bad info out there today. Yes in general the average American is screwed. However, just remember that the last generation did not have much at all and they made it as long as they could. This is what we will have to do and the government knows it. The rich don't care! We should just turn over SS to Mexico because the stupid Dems will put millions ...maybe 10s of millions of illegals onto our program free of charge. Think it will run out soon??? Just wait!
Yes the scam artists are everywhere...Merrill Lynch, Bank of America etc If the banks borrow from the Fed then they should be held responsiblefor their antics. It was all about a bonuses!!! We read about it and just shook our heads in amazement but no one did anything about it. We can make micro loans from the Gates foundation at 100% interest and sell hot dogs to the rich on street corners.. I would pray if I were you

July 14 2011 at 4:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Retirement in the future will be warehousing grandma and grandpa in so called army barracks type of buildings.

July 14 2011 at 2:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

I'm 68 and reading this reminds me of Bees attracted to Honey. Since it is an article for seniors the scam artists are flocking. They all want to show you "For Free" how to become rich or protect your assets. They live off the frightened sector of the populace. Watch your wallets, investments, and bank accounts. There is no sure thing and nothing is FREE.

July 14 2011 at 1:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

This is stupid, HOPE is all they have left. Someone please ask our government where is all the money paid into social security? As far as government debt, when will Congress and the President realize that they should pay back the citizens (legal) of this country first. Instead it seems they want to send the money to other countries or finance some plan that only benefits a few. Government get the message, you took our money all our working lives and now you set in your very comfortable tax payer paid life and tell us to tough it out. You want be sending the checks. THINK ABOUT IT> What happens when we do not pay our taxes, you send someone to take our assets and maybe prison. Well maybe the government needs to have penalties as well. We don't get our checks we send the voters and all the pressure we can muster amoungs you folks. Obama said this debt problem could be the end of his presidency, that is the first thing he has said I agree with. Now he is starting to tell the truth.

July 14 2011 at 12:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sam Das

401k is now gambling money in the world's biggest casino-The stock market.

July 14 2011 at 10:03 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

so they need to work longer[and not enjoy retirement]] spend less[for many,that means not getting med,cutting back on food and no money for any entertainment] or have enough for bills. that would give me a positive outlook? who did they poll? the rich or close to it? poll the average american and see wat the NEW numbers are!!!

July 13 2011 at 4:59 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Funny how there is usually a silver lining in the darkest cloud. What is going on will actually be beneficial to the SS fund. Many in their low 60's went early a couple of years ago after being unemployed and exhausting UE benefits simply because they had little or no choice. Now it swings back that many that would have gone at 66 will have to delay. Their nest eggs were greatly diminished when the markets went down to 7000/700. Many sold on the way down, and would not get back in at the bottom. I doubt SS is going away. If you view it as your money, plus the employer's match, it would be borderline theft. It will probably be massaged a bit particularly for people under 50 who will face a bump in the age of early or full benefits. They might try something on a "needs" basis to cut back the wealthy. They will be unhappy, but it will not send them to the bread line. Believe the fear mongering is just that. Think about who consistently votes in elections? The politicians do, and their only true motivation while in office is one thing---re-election.

July 13 2011 at 4:46 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm watching a high speed chase on the HLN network right going on in Texas ,,,,,the car is cruising at over a 100 miles an hour .CRAZY

July 13 2011 at 4:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to nomorebarry7's comment

Chase is all done some Woman tried to kidnap two small children.

July 13 2011 at 4:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hey Stop the DF censor cry babies must be Muslims !!!!

July 13 2011 at 4:33 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply